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Email Conversations–Pro and Con

Last week I led a Writing Tune-Up for a world-class investment company. When we talked about new rules for email, one woman suggested this rule:

Don’t have business discussions in email. It’s not efficient. If you want to talk with a group of people, schedule a meeting and send out an agenda.

Another woman countered that suggestion. Her view was:

Have discussions in email. That way, you will have a written record of everyone’s contribution. At too many live meetings, no one takes notes, so there is no record of everyone’s ideas. Also, in email you can have a conversation with people in Seattle, London, and Tokyo without worrying about what time it is on the other side of the world.

I agree with both. Email discussions can be messy, but they are a great alternative for international communication. And live meetings are much more productive when someone takes notes and distributes them than when no one does.

Do you have suggestions about how to make email discussions more efficient? Please share them.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

6 comments on “Email Conversations–Pro and Con”

  • I’d like to force people to read the entire conversation thus far before adding new comments. I have had some very frustrating exchanges because people would reply to the first part of the discussion without reading the entire thread, and then we’d have to backtrack (in the particular situation I’m thinking of, we were all editing a document together, and people kept making additional changes without taking previous changes into account).

    It really makes me wish our whole company used Gmail, with its “conversation” format that groups all the responses together automatically. I think that would solve this problem definitively.

    So Outlook? Let’s get on that, please!

  • Katy, yours sounds like an excellent rule: Read the entire conversation before contributing to it.

    Thanks for commenting.


  • Angela, thanks so much for sharing your solution. Can you supply a link about setting up a wiki to send people in the right direction and save them time?


  • Hi Lynn, I just found your blog and I love it!

    As for email, I am becoming a big fan of using a wiki along with a RSS reader instead. Discussions can be organized in a variety of ways – possibly over several pages by subject. Anyone can contribute and all of the content remains in one place. This helps eliminate the replies to the replies that create long email that one has to sift through to see where they last left off in the conversation. A RSS feed lets people know when something new has been posted if they choose.

  • I agree with your thoughts on email and meeting communication. It also depends on the receiver, as some people use email so sparingly with quick one sentence responses, they are better off communicating live.

    These posts have helped me a lot, as I am not a natural born writer. My technical courses for six sigma
    are being improved reading your information.

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